CMGT 540: Uses of Communication Research

CMGT 540: Uses of Communication Research


CMGT 540: Uses of Communication Research

Fall 2011

Course Syllabus (rev 20110819)

Instructors: Daniela BaroffioSandi EvansBen Lee

Office:ASC 221ASC 221ASC 221

Office hours:To be determinedTo be determinedTo be determined

best by appointmentbest by appointmentbest by appointment


Instructors: Yujung NamBrad ShipleyMatthew Zhou

Office:ASC 221ASC 221ASC 221

Office hours:To be determinedTo be determinedTo be determined


Check your email linked to Blackboard regularly. The instructors rely on Blackboard’s email to inform students about class agenda and logistical details.

Course Description

What good is learning research methods? Is it like eating vegetables rather than strawberry cheesecake? Yes, it is. But like most vegetables, learning about research methods can be good for you.

Part of the goodness is that learning research methods can serve as a foundation for success in your professional lives. As professionals, part of your responsibilities will involve solving problems. And although solving problems successfully will require many resources (e.g., interpersonal and political skills), a fundamental ability is being able (1) to understand problems conceptually – to break problems down into their important parts and have a sense of how the parts relate to one another and to the whole; and (2) to obtain and analyze relevant data. Conceptualizing problems, and obtaining and analyzing data are two core skills you will refine by learning research methods.

To emphasize the value of learning research methods, consider this: in University of Pennsylvania’s WhartonSchool, research methods is a substantial part of a course called Decision Sciences in their highly-ranked MBA program. Research methods is offered in the same spirit at USC’s Marshall School of Business.

Students have taken advantage of this course (and the subsequent CMGT 597) to explore entrepreneurial ideas, test feasibility of business opportunities, and develop projects for clients. The skills you learn in this class will allow you to stand out in your profession as a creative thinker, with the additional ability to design and implement good assessment practices.

Another benefit of learning research methods is that, if you find it interesting, research is a viable career field. Graduates of this course have been hired by market research firms such as Lieberman Worldwide, Western Psychological Testing, and various other firms in research oriented roles.

More generally, in terms of completing your program at Annenberg, this course serves as an early start to the capstone course CMGT 597. A good capstone experience is to gain some expertise in a problem interesting and important to you. You will start gaining or consolidating that expertise by learning more about the problem in this class's assigned project.

Course Materials

Required materials

  • Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (6th edition), by the American Psychological Association (2009).
  • APA: The Easy Way! (2nd edition),by Peggy M. Houghton and Timothy J. Houghton (2009).

[Choice: If you are familiar with the Publication Manual, you do not need The Easy Way.]

  • They Say / I Say: The Moves that Matter in Persuasive Writing, by Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein (2007).
  • The Science of Scientific Writing, by George D. Gopen and Judith A. Swan (in American Scientist, 78, 550-558) [available on Blackboard].

Supplemental materials

  • Additional supplemental materials will be introduced as the course progresses.

Recommended materials

  • Business Research Methods (10th edition) (abbreviated as BRM), by Donald Cooper and Pamela S. Schindler (2006).

Materials on business and marketing planning

  • Business Model Generation: A Handbook for Visionaries, Game Changers, and Challengers, by Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur (2010).
  • The New Business Road Test: What Entrepreneurs and Executives Should Do Before Writing a Business Plan (3nd edition), by John Mullins (2010).
  • Writing a Convincing Business Plan (3rd edition), by Arthur DeThomas and Stephanie Derammelaere (2008).
  • Marketing Plans: How to Prepare Them, How to Use Them (6th edition), by Malcolm McDonald (2007).
  • Kellogg on Branding, by Tim Calkins, Alice Tybout and Philip Kotler (2005).

Materials on specific methods

  • Moderating to the Max: A Full-Tilt Guide to Creative Insightful Focus Groups and Depth Interviews,by Jean Bystedt and Gregg Fraley (2003).
  • Qualitative Interviewing: The Art of Hearing Data (2nd edition), by Herbert J. Rubin and Irene S. Rubin (2005).
  • Case Study Research: Design and Methods (4thedition), by Robert K. Yin (2008).

Materials on data analysis

  • Using SPSS for Windows and Macintosh (5th edition), by Samuel. B. Green and Neil. J. Salkind (2007).
  • Qualitative Data Analysis: An Expanded Sourcebook (2nd edition), by Matthew B. Miles and A. Michael Huberman (1994).

Materials on writing

  • USC Writing Center,
  • The Bedford Handbook (8th edition), by Diana Hacker and Nancy Sommers (2009).
  • Line by Line: How to Edit Your Own Writing, by Claire Kehrwald Cook (1985) (

Documents on Blackboard

All the important documents detailing the course’s calendar and evaluation criteria are on Blackboard, under Syllabus & Other Controlling Documents. There you will find the course syllabus, and the documents “Course Project Specifications,” and “Evaluation of Papers.”

Also on Blackboard, under Lesson Materials, are the various supplemental materials for the specific sessions. For example, you will find

  • various articles on writing, to be covered in Week 3;
  • materials on specific methods, such as focus groups and case studies.

Refer to Blackboard regularly for such materials.

Evaluation of Performance

Course Project

Description of topic02%

Initial search and gathering of literature on topic02%

Analysis and discussion of writing01%

Writing – Introduction and initial literature review12%

Review of and comment on peers’ introduction01%

Writing – Revised introduction

and expanded literature review 20%

Writing – Method(s), including

design of procedures and instruments10%

Review of and comment on peers’ methods01%

Writing: Revised paper (revised introduction,

literature review, and methods) 40%

(For all writing assignments, see “Evaluation of Papers” for specific components)

Test on Understanding Plagiarism02%

Test on Assigned Readings02%

Research Ethics Module01%

Participation in Class06%

Grading Practice and Philosophy

This course uses the following grading scheme:

A 95.0% or higher

A- 90.0%-94.9%

B+ 87.0%-89.9%

B 83.0%-86.9%

B- 80.0%-82.9%


C 73.0%-76.9%


D 60.0%-69.9%

F59.9% or lower

C- or lower is a failing grade.

To get a better sense of what these numbers mean, consider these scenarios.

You are a professional engaged by your client to deliver a service wrapped in the form of a project. The project earns a B or B+ grade, if you delivered the service competently, on time, within budget, and with adequate quality. Your client is reasonably pleased, and you are on her short list of people to call for the next job.

To earn an A for the project means the equivalent of impressing your client, outperforming her expectations. For example, you manage to deliver on time and with quality even when the job scope and demands unexpectedly expand under unreasonable deadlines. This earns you the equivalent of being called first for another job, or being asked to join the client’s firm.

On the other side of the spectrum, a C- represents a minimally acceptable result, often delivered grudgingly. An example of a C- experience is this: You are at a local franchise restaurant ordering breakfast to go for your colleagues. The service staff packs your order, and moves on to the next customer. You check the bag, and realize that the receipt is missing. You ask for the receipt because you want to be able to show your colleagues what their order costs. However, the service staff says, “No, I can't give you a receipt because the order is closed.” You ask to talk to a supervisor. The supervisor comes to the counter. The staff and the supervisor then speak to each other in a non-English language, saying essentially, “What's her problem? What the eff does she want a receipt for?” You understand perfectly the non-English language, and you say to them, “I need the receipt to show my colleagues, to collect money from them. So give me my effing receipt.” The supervisor reopens the order, and gives you a receipt, making a tremendously displeased face the whole time. So, in this scenario, you got your food and your receipt, so the restaurant staff delivered, but the quality of your experience is poor. The restaurant in this scenario earns no better than a C-.

An example of earning a C- in this course would be turning in a 12-page report when the assignment asks for 20 pages, or otherwise failing to fulfill certain requirements.

A C- or lower represents failure. This may occur when a student misses the required meetings, or fails to turn in assignments, or fails to fulfill major project requirements, or fails to respond to instructors’ guidance. Committing plagiarism earns an F plus a recommendation for suspension or expulsion from the program.

Timing of Grades and Comments, and Response to Comments

The instructors often give comments on assignments before determining a grade, i.e., you receive comments first, grades later. Grading is better done only after the instructors have reviewed every student’s assignment, and developed a sense of the collective as well as the individual quality.

In their comments, the instructors often require that you revise and improve on multiple and specific parts of your assignments. You must revise and improve. You may not selectively respond to certain comments and ignore others. Not responding to instructors’ comments constitutes a risk for failure.If you do not agree with the instructor’s point, you must explain your position well.

Course Project

The course project is an opportunity for you to learn more about a topic interesting and important to you. The project is a multi-month effort that should represent your best intellectual and professional work to date.

Please refer to the document “Course Project Specifications” for details, available on Blackboard under Syllabus & Other Controlling Documents.The following are important administrative issues about delivery of assignments:

First, email is the primary way to deliver assignments, even when other ways (e.g. Turnitin on Blackboard) are required. Assignments must be emailed to all instructors. This requirement is to ensure that if your supervising instructor becomes unavailable or incapacitated, another instructor can assume responsibility.

Certain assignments must also be submitted via Turnitin on Blackboard. These assignments are: (1) introduction and initial literature review, (2) revised introduction, and expanded literature review, and (3) final revised paper. See the document “Course Project Specifications” for more detailed instructions. If you have trouble submitting assignments to TurnItIn, contact Brad Shipley ().

Second, delivering your assignments on time is crucial to your success in this course and in CMGT 597. Successful delivery means that the assignment must be received (not merely sent) by the deadline. Note that between sending and receiving, even a well-functioning email system may take up to 5 minutes. Timeliness applies to both email and Turnitin deliverables.Late assignments incur significant penalties (e.g., half of the possible score at best). Any late assignment still has to be completed and delivered, or it may prevent you from completing the course.

Deadlines are set at 60 minutes before class starts that week (unless otherwise indicated). For example, the first project deliverable is due in Week 2; if you are in the Wednesday afternoon session, the deadline is August31, 2011, 1:00 pm; if you are in the evening session, the deadline is August 31, 2011, 5:30 pm. If your submission (via either email or Turnitin) is received at 1:01 pm or 5:31 pm or later, it is late.

Third, all assignment submissions must be properly named, specifically for attached documents. For example, if your name is Cathy Tan, for the first submission, the attached document must be named:

Tan, Cathy C540-1 Topic Descriptions.

See the Course Project Specifications for each assignment’s name.Improperlynamingdocuments annoys the instructors, who may impose a penalty for the submission.

Fourth, to confirm for yourself that the instructors have received your assignment, send it also to your email account. Doing so substitutes for asking the instructors to acknowledge receipt manually. The instructors are not being uncommunicative, but time spent replying 60 times per assignment is time better devoted to guiding you through your project.

Fifth, all documents should be in Microsoft Word format (to allow comments to be annotated on the document). All page length requirements are for double-spaced pages, with 1-inch margins, in 12-point Times New Roman font. Files must be readable, i.e., non-corrupted, either accidentally or deliberately. When receiving a file, the instructors will make one attempt to open and read it. If that fails, the instructors will ask you to resend. However, the resubmission will be considered as received at its own time, and if it is past the deadline, it is late.

Note: The instructors structure these disincentives for two reasons. The first is that we have found verbal instructions alone to be ineffective in inculcating successful actions. We have tried. After multiple semesters and hundreds of students, we realized that attaching a meaningful signal (in the form of grade penalties) works. The second and more important reason is to allow the instructors to serve you better (e.g., focus energy and time on the substantive arguments in your writing rather than on fiddling with file formats), and to encourage you to make progress in this intensely-paced course.

Writing Quality

The course project demands much in terms of writing. The quality of your writing will significantly influence how instructors evaluate your work.

The instructors learned through many encounters that many students judge themselves to be good writers. This judgment is often over-optimistic. The writing demands in this course are very high, complex, and constant. Even competent writers will be challenged. Hence, be prepared to expend much effort in improving your writing. The instructors encourage you to be open and receptive to feedback for improving.

The effort to improve must come from you. The instructors will highlight where your writing needs to improve, and point you to resources. Then, it is your responsibility to use these resources to improve. One such resource is USC’s WritingCenter. Learn more about what the Center offers, especially the one-on-one consultation sessions.

How will writing quality be evaluated? One basic component is writing mechanics. Good mechanics refer to careful attention to spelling, punctuation, and grammar; good grammar includes subject-verb agreement, appropriate use of parallel structures, absence of sentence fragments, and so on. Another aspect of mechanics is the use of proper vocabulary and expressions. For a refresher, refer to More resources are listed at

Also, the Writing Center holds workshops on improving mechanics. See their website for details. Another conveniently packaged resource is the recommended text, The Bedford Handbook.

Another component of writing quality is organization. In a well-organized paper, the arguments flow smoothly; the transitions from one idea to another are well written, i.e., the reader knows when different arguments are being presented and can grasp the important and subtle distinctions. A well-organized paper respects the reader’s cognitive burden and shepherds the reader’s attention carefully. How to learn about organizing a paper well? Three good resources exist. The first is the article “The Science of Scientific Writing,” available on Blackboard. The second is the required text They Say / I Say, especially Chapter 8. The third is the recommended text Edit Yourself. Consult these resources, become familiar with their guidance, and implement in your writing. Also, the Writing Centers holds workshops related to organization.

The basic criterion is to communicate well to your readers (your instructors and your peers). If your readers cannot understand your writing due to flaws in grammar, vocabulary or organization, then the quality of your thinking cannot be appreciated. The instructors cannot spend minutes to decipher a sentence you wrote. You cannot ask instructors to ignore poor writing in order to focus on content.

A paper with good ideas but bad writing will earn a poor grade, as specified in the evaluation rubric (“Evaluation of Papers”). The demands are especially stringent. If your writing performs poorly in the quality requirement (i.e., scoring on the lowest category), it represents unsatisfactory performance. The instructors will require you to attend to those areas and revise before proceeding. For example, upon detecting the 8th error in vocabulary, expression, spelling, punctuation, typography or other mechanics in your draft, the instructors will impose a score of “0” in that category, and may stop reading and return your paper. You then have to revise and resubmit within 7 days.

When evaluating your writing, the instructors may correct the first few language errors. Thereafter, the instructor may only indicate that flaws are present. In such instances, you must take the initiative to identify and correct those flaws, rather than expect instructors to perform that task.

For more details about writing quality and how the instructors will evaluate it, please refer to the document “Evaluation of Papers.”

Test on Understanding Plagiarism

Plagiarism is a serious infraction in this course. We will devote significant energy to understand what constitutes plagiarism and how to not commit it. The lesson is on Week 3. After the lesson, to anchor the learning, you will be tested. The test will be administered via Blackboard online. More instructions will be provided in time.

Test(s) on Assigned Readings

The test(s) are meant to motivate you to read the assigned materials. The test(s) will consist of no more than 10 questions in multiple-choice or short answer format, to be completed within 10 minutes.

Why have the test(s)? They aim to give you the incentive to read the assigned materials before class. Previous experience with this class indicated that some students consistently avoid completing the assigned reading. Reading may be a chore, but it remains an important chore nonetheless. The readings are assigned to assist you in getting the most out of this class. Time in class is better spent discussing the important points in the material, rather than having the instructors transmit for the first time information that you can get from reading. With even a passing read of the material, we have a chance to learn more and more deeply, and have a better experience. Research on learning has consistently shown that students who engage with the material in multiple formats (e.g., through reading and then through listening in lecture) increase their absorption of the new knowledge.